Forced Marriage in the Republic of Ireland

I was asked yesterday to give a sense of the extent to which situations like that of G and D – the Northern Irish case of two young girls who were at risk of being forced by their parents into marriage in Pakistan which we wrote about here– are of relevance in the Republic.

I am not aware of any ‘G and D’ type cases which have come before our courts. As yet, forced marriage does not seem to be seen as a mainstream ‘family law’ or ‘women’s law’ issue in the way that it is in the UK and Northern Ireland. In 2007, the Minister for Health and Children stated in the Dail that she was satisfied ‘that all reasonable measures are in place to prevent forced marriages and to provide a remedy where full, free and informed consent is absent’. She referred to the law of nullity which allows a marriage to be set aside where it was contracted in the face of fear, duress, intimidation or undue influence. She noted that the criminal law provided several bases upon which violence used in the context of forcing another into marriage can be prosecuted.

UK law stood in a similar position prior to 2007 and the passage of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection Act). It was felt that specific civil remedies were necessary for many reasons but in particular to prevent forced marriages from occurring. Minister Harney seems to concentrate only on the aspects of law which can help lock the stable door after the horse has bolted. She does refer to the Civil Registration Act 2004, s. 58 of which allows an objection to be made to marriage prior to solemnisation and thus could allow for a forced marriage to be stalled – assuming that the person at risk of forced marriage (a) was participating in a civil ceremony under Irish law at all rather than marrying abroad or in a purely religious ceremony and (b) had a friend who (i) could object (ii) knew about s. 58 – but it is hard to see that this goes far enough to prevent forced marriages occuring within the jurisdiction to say nothing of those contracted abroad. In particular, Minister Harney does not discuss any child protection issues though these of course, were at the heart of G and A.

While forced marriage has barely dented Irish family law, it has received some limited discussion in the context of immigration policy. Here are some of the points which I have encountered as I tried to research the issue.

The Women’s Health Council notes that there is no data on forced marriage in Ireland.

The government’s March 2010 National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence only mentions forced marriage once, (on p. 21 of 120) where it says Gender-based violence includes domestic violence and sexual violence but also encompasses forms of violence that are not readily recognised as occurring in Irish society. These include honour-based violence, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, female infanticide, and sexual violence as a weapon of conflict. However, it may be that some people living in Ireland have encountered these or other forms of gender- based violence in other countries. While they have not been raised as a significant issue in Ireland at the moment, these problems may become more salient in the future.’

The Children’s Rights Alliance reports on cases where children who have gone missing from HSE care have been forced into marriage.

The Irish Refugee Council has called for an age-sensitive interpretation of the refugee definition to include child-specific issues such as forced marriage.

AkiDwA and the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland similarly have argued that asylum should be granted to women who are fleeing forced marriage.

In 2008, the Immigrant Council of Ireland took the position that the granting of family reunification should be conditional on the absence of evidence that the Irish national or resident migrant seeking reunification, or his/her spouse were forced into the marriage.

The excellent Women’s Health Council Report on Gender-Based Violence and Minority Ethnic Women in Ireland notes that 7 of the sample set of 26 migrant women interviewed in support of the study had experienced forced marriage, often together with other forms of violence, before arriving in Ireland. Of 48 organisations surveyed which provided services to victims and survivors of gender-based violence, almost half ‘have been accessed at some stage regarding forced marriage’. The report details interviews with migrant women about forced marriage at pages 73-74 and summarises:

‘Forced marriages typically took place when the interviewee was aged from 12 to 14 years. Interviewees perceived a strong economic basis behind this form of GBV. Other factors included tradition, duty and unequal power relations. It was the cause of significant suffering and distress, and had long term negative consequences on the self-esteem and emotional wellbeing of its victims/survivors’.

The report emphasises these women’s need for appropriate support. The same report notes at p 156 that Traveller women also reported experience of forced marriage.

So, in short, forced marriage is an issue for the Republic of Ireland, for women and children, and for migrant and minority communities of  varied origins. I would be grateful if readers could add to this summary as I expect that I am bound to have missed something. Guest posts are very welcome on this topic.

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